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Stamkos making strides to stardom

by Mike G. Morreale
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton only can shake his head and smile when reminded how the weight of the world once rested upon the shoulders of Steven Stamkos.

It never got the better of the first pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, however. He just rolled with the punches and went about his business, despite the naysayers and non-believers.

Stamkos finished 2008-09 with a single-season franchise record for goals by a rookie with 23, breaking by two the mark set by Brad Richards in 2000-01. His 46 points were 18 more than Vincent Lecavalier had as an 18-year-old rookie in 1998-99, and Stamkos became the second-youngest player in NHL history to record a natural hat trick, Feb. 17, 2009, in a 5-3 loss to Chicago.

"It's a great reminder of how much the young players can change in such a quick amount of time," Lawton told "It's also a test to those same young people to always keep your confidence. But that was never an issue with us with regard to Steven. The real crux of the problem for him was that there was so much outside or external media pressure."

This season, the proverbial sophomore slump hasn't caught up with Stamkos. He became the third-youngest player in NHL history to score 100 career points, trailing only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk. Stamkos, who has 124 points in 144 games, now owns a Lightning record with 17 power-play goals this season and he's currently riding the longest active scoring streak in the League at 17 games (16 goals, 31 points), also a new club record.

He was named the NHL's Second Star for the week ending Sunday after notching 5 goals and 6 points in three games. Stamkos has a goal in six straight and in nine of his last 10 games. Twice this season he has scored a goal in six consecutive games.
"It's a great story and Steven deserves all the credit because he's the guy who kept the faith in himself and never wandered in that and he's come back strong this year," Lawton said.

As if he hasn't already proved himself, now, Stamkos is ready to take it one step further. He's closing in on becoming the third-youngest player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season. The only players younger were Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky in 1979-80 (19 years, two months) and Los Angeles' Jimmy Carson in 1987-88 (19 years, eight months). Stamkos is currently third in the League with 41 goals (and sixth with 78 points) with 17 games remaining.

"It's definitely reachable, the way things are going," said Stamkos. "It's definitely in the back of my mind. It would be special."

"I don't hear people talking about the struggles that he had in his first 40 games as a pro now (when he scored just 4 goals)," Lawton said. "It's a thing of the past. He's a great kid. He's sincere, humble and everything you'd want in a young athlete. He's developing his leadership abilities on the fly and that's really the next fun thing we'll see out of him -- his development as a world-class leader. And yet, he just turned 20 (on Feb. 7)."

Lawton knows a little something about the pressure that's associated with being a No. 1 draft pick -- he was chosen No. 1 in 1983 by the Minnesota North Stars.

"Whenever you're the first pick, there are a lot of pressures that go with it," Lawton said. "It's more so now than ever because there are so many avenues for people to get information and it moves around very quickly in today's world. But Steven has handled it like a true professional."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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